As seems to be happening on a regular basis these days, the safety of the free world – or perhaps that should be the freedom of the safe world – is again, apparently, in danger – and the only thing that can be done to defend it is the formation of a coalition with “freedom loving countries” to not only reject, but also denounce – the possibility of the United Nations having any say in the way that the Internet is regulated.
The new plan comes from twenty Republican members of Congress, who have sent an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding this December’s World Conference on International Telecommunications. The letter – dated July 18 and signed by W. Todd Akin, Edward Royce, Walter Jones, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Andy Harris, Diane Black, Lynn Westmoreland, Jeffrey Landry, Marsha Blackburn, Bill Posey, Michael McCaul, Howard Coble, Ken Calvert, Billy Long, John Kline, Jeff Miller, Renee Ellmers, Greg Walden, Brian Bilbray and Pete Olson – relates to the long-standing rumor that the WCIT will see a “power grab” for control of the Internet by the International Telecommunications Union on behalf of countries such as China, Russia and Iran.
“Unfortunately,” the letter explains, “it appears that this organization [the ITU] and this conference in particular [the WCIT] are being dominated by countries who oppose internet freedom and who would like to see more U.N. control over the internet. We are very concerned by this development.” Amongst their concerns are leaked proposals that “are nothing more than power grabs by totalitarian and repressive regimes.” Of course, there will be other proposals that may be more generous to Internet users, but we don’t know about those just yet, because the proposals have not been released to the public – another thing that makes the twenty Congress members nervous, apparently: “The process remains secret and thus favors authoritarian regimes who want to rein in the freedom of the internet,” the letter explains in an impressive leap of logic (How, exactly, does a secret process automatically favor any kind of regime…?).
In explaining the thinking behind the letter, Congressman Akin released a statement in which he said that he and his colleagues are “calling on Secretary Clinton to use all of the influence and power of the United States to prevent the United Nations or authoriarian regimes from increasing their control over the internet [and, if that doesn't happen, asking that] Secretary Clinton form a coalition with other freedom loving countries to put an end to this process and prevent centralized government control over the internet.”
It’s worth pointing out at this point that the ITU has already denied having any interest in controlling the internet, and also pointed out that the easiest way to deal with troubling proposals is to simply show up at the conference and lodge a complaint. “Even a handful of dissenters is enough to stop proposals from going through,” ITU media chief Sarah Parks explained last month. “We think it’s healthy that people have the ability to raise whatever points they want to raise in a very open way. This is part of the democratic process, letting the delegations discuss anything they want to.”
Of course, the democratic process is much slower than hyperbole and coalition forming, so there’s that.